Review: Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ Brings Up Mystery, Blood, Bible Verses For Halloween Frenzy
Netflix’s new limited horror series “Midnight Mass” is a lot – a lot of story, a lot of characters, a lot of Bibles, a lot of blood. This overloaded moral fable, set on a ramshackle island where everyone knows each other, bears Stephen King’s stamp of approval, and it’s not hard to see why. With its assortment of damaged heroes and villains, isolated setting, and supernatural mystery backbone, it could have easily gotten out of the Horror Master’s notebook. (Indeed, series creator and director Mike Flanagan previously wrote and directed King’s adaptation of “Dr. Sleep”).
It is a fairly slow combustion. Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns home to Crockett Island after serving four years in prison for killing a girl in a drunk driving accident. A former altar boy, he lost his faith. But he’s still intrigued when a charismatic young priest (Hamish Linklater, stealing the show) arrives in town, claiming to be a temporary replacement for the community’s longtime Monsignor.
Flanagan, who imported several actors from his previous hit Netflix series âThe Haunting of Hill Houseâ and âThe Haunting of Bly Manor,â has an affinity for long shots and slow plot exposure. Everyone in the cast, it seems, gets a long monologue about the nature of right and wrong. One thing is for sure: this new priest is weird and exciting, passionate and raw. He soon inspires the small island version of a Great Awakening, even those who are atheists by nature log on and show up at the Small Church.
Then the miracles begin. A teenage girl (Annarah Cymone), confined in a wheelchair, begins to walk again. But bad omens abound too. One fine morning, residents wake up to find a long line of dead cats on the beach. It’s a pestilence, but it’s mixed with divine.
âMidnight Massâ is so loaded with potential spoilers that it’s hard to discuss it in other than abstract terms. With a runtime of seven hours, it has plenty of room to roam – too much, in fact – but at about a third of the storyline, the storyline begins to clear up the mysteries with concrete and recognizable horror elements. Much of the series, however, involves theorizing and character development with a touch of horror, as opposed to horror with a touch of theory and character. Which is another way of saying âMidnight Massâ requires patience. It’s easy to imagine this seven-hour story being reduced to five.
The greatest strength of the series is not the storytelling but the character and performance. It’s hard to squeeze the best of the best out of such a deep cast. Samantha Sloyan epitomizes pious pettiness as Bev Keane, who has strange ideas about salvation. Rahul Kohli delivers pathos as the island’s Muslim sheriff, out of place amid a wave of Christian rectitude. But the real keeper is Linklater, mumbling, praying and shuddering to make his way to the tormented soul of Father Paul.
By the time âMidnight Massâ approaches the finish line, he’s made something of a mess. But he also asked us to consider important spiritual questions, such as how good and evil occupy different halves of the same equation, one only existing because of the presence of the other. It’s hard to hit âMidnight Massâ for taking too long to think, especially when considering the alternative.
THE“Midnight Mass”: Limited horror series. With Hamish Linklater, Zach Gilford, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, Annabeth Gish, Henry Thomas and Kristin Lehman. Directed by Mike Flanagan. (TV-MA. Seven episodes of approximately 60 minutes each). Available to stream from Friday, September 24 on Netflix.